On Friday, June 28, 2010 I set out to skate 140 continuous miles in 10 hours or less in celebration of my 40th birthday. I chose 140 because for the last two years I’ve taken part in 100 mile skate events, so doing the classic “40 for 40” just seemed…anti-climatic. 140 felt like it would be a challenge.
It was. I didn’t finish 140 miles.
I was able to knock down 100 before the sun got the better of me and I had to pack it in. Sun stroke wasn’t on my bucket list, but a personal best record for 100 miles could find its way to being a suitable outcome for the most challenging skate of my life…
The challenges didn’t just come in the form of many miles of trail to conquer. They started the night before. Like the lead up to the other two times I’ve done an ultra-distance skate, or a duraskate, I had a lot of nervous energy to burn that night before. So I did what I normally do…I prepared my skates, hydration pack, energy bars and got my clothes laid out and ready for pre-dawn departure. I was in the process of making a protein shake for my breakfast when Horseypants leaped out of her seat and did a Triple Lindy over the back of the couch. Our dog was having a seizure at her feet. This isn’t new for him, but it was outside of his normal seizure routine, which usually happens around midnight and in his bed upstairs. This was 9:30 in the evening and downstairs in the living room. We have a very specific protocol we run through when he’s having one of his moments. We clear the room, close the door and wait for him to snap out of it and come back to his senses before we approach him. He’s a big dog, and in the post-seizure confusion state he can become aggressive. Well, this time out there was nowhere to run. Horseypants high-tailed it for upstairs to close the kids’ doors and shut herself in our bedroom. I stuck it out downstairs and waited for him to come to. He finally did and his recovery was uneventful, but it was now going to be a long night, as the second half of our routine is for me to stay up with him on a leash to make sure nothing aggressive happens. This usually means my sleep is shallow, and that I can be sure I’ll be up several times as he gets up and reorients himself. By the time I was able to lay down it was 11 p.m. I had planned on being up at 4:20 the next morning to get dressed and be at the trail head by 5 a.m…
5 a.m. came and I awoke, groggy from being woken up several times throughout the night. I tied the dog’s leash to the bedpost, got dressed, sucked down some coffee and rolled out. (FWIW: I know coffee is a diuretic. It’s a necessary handicap.) Anyway…I got to the trailhead at about 5:40, a little late but I wasn’t too concerned. At this point I had already sucked down the protein shake and 4 cups of coffee, so I was feeling pretty awake and good to go.
Good to go…yep, thank goodness there was a Johnny-On-The-Spot at the trail head. I’d visit it 4 times before rolling out. Nerves of jelly and a peanut sized bladder will do that to you.
I parked my truck at a mid-way point on the course I’d be spending the day on. Figured this would be a good idea in case of any emergency, as I’d have to pass it at least a half dozen times throughout the day. What I didn’t anticipate was the epic battle of self preservation vs. will to succeed that this simple parking decision would spark as the day went on and the mercury climbed to year-to-date highs…we’ll get back to this.
This was a beautiful morning. With all of the final prep and gearing up, I was on the trail by 6 a.m. There had been earlier concern about this trail being flooded and obstructed by massive fallen trees, but fortunately all of that had been cleared up and out in the week prior. Fortune was shining brightly on this skater and his ambition to prove that life really begins at 40…
My plan was to establish a pace that was a little faster than 15 m.p.h. for the first 52.4 miles. After that I figured I’d be able to “coast” the rest of the 80+ miles at a leisurely 14 mph and I’d finish 140 in well under 10 hours. I’d seen the records for A2A and while I think I could probably maintain an average of 16+ mph in a small pack over this distance, this was solo so I didn’t want to over do it. Plus, I knew it was supposed to reach about 90 degrees around 2 pm, so I needed to be sure to have something in the tank to deal with the heat. Strategy firmly in place, I rolled out.
The first 26.2 were a breeze. The temps were cool, the trail was clear and my spirits were elevated. This stuff gets me high. Like Alan Sillitoe’s Smith, I felt like the first man ever to be dropped in the world. I was King of the Daylight World. And while there wasn’t a soul or subject in sight, the trail was loyal and subservient, and I was in a benevolent mood. To the trail, my every stride was a gift…something to make its meager existence somehow part of a grander scheme and profoundly worthwhile. I knew that 140 miles were going to be a complete cake walk. At one point I even stopped to have a “Mark Wahlberg Talks To The Animals” moment with a turtle. Indeed, tis good to be the King:
I had so much fun with him that I had to turn around, go back and get this photo:
By 10 a.m. I was done with 52.4 miles and still feeling great. I’d sucked down only about 16 oz. of H3O Hydration drink and had 1 protein bar on the trail for a morning snack. My right ankle was starting to get a little irritated from my un-molded boot, but other than that my legs were in good shape, my heart rate was a cool 60-70% max, and I was keeping a great pace. I spent a lot of time focused on foot pressure, forward knee bend and double pushing.
What became clear to me was that 110mm wheels are going to be a blessing at Duluth this year. For distance skating, big wheels and good form make the difference. It’s both, not one. But if it were one over the other, form rules. Focus on form and the rest will follow. These long skates are great for training!
For the next 8 miles I was totally in love with this sport. I resurrected an idea I had to publish an e-book to be called “Slow to Podium: Form, Flow, Power, Speed & Grace Through Inline Skating.” My iPod was blaring out all of my favorite songs, the sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing, the trail was smooth and my form felt right. I was enjoying the freedom and looking forward to telling everyone how surprised I was that the 140 were so easy to finish. I was thinking about all of the great races that I’d not gone to this year – the Planet Adventure series in Indiana, the Apostle Islands Marathon, the TX Road Rash, all of them. Even thought about A2A and how I’d be sure to do great there if I only went (despite what I know about the road surfaces!). For the past few years I’ve only done the Northshore Inline Marathon, but now I was ready to take my 2011 calendar and load it up! I was ready to get into the action full on…
Then, somewhere around mile 60, (adopting a Sean Connery Scottish brogue) it all went to shite quicker than BP’s stock price.
First it was the ankle, which was now more than a twinge. It was full-out pain. One unassuming stride around mile 59 and I felt a shooting pain go up the right side of my calf. Became a stabbing needle point with every stride after that. And my feet and calves were starting to feel the effects of being on firm wheels for 60 miles straight. It’s amazing was a few points in duometer will buy you in terms of comfort. I should have been on softer wheels for this. I won’t make that mistake again.
It was at this point I started to think that I couldn’t stop, even for a quick pee break, because it might be really, really hard to get rolling again. I was still keeping a good pace by ignoring the pain in my ankle, but I was standing up more now due to the tightness in my lower back. There would be no more rolling videos or still photos till this thing was over, because I wasn’t even at the mid-way point yet.
With that realization…that I wasn’t even half way there yet…the mental challenge grew exponentially and took on mythical proportions. It became the Seven-headed Hydra that I’d have to be Hercules to overcome. But there’d be no help, I was on my own. It seemed that for every mile I lopped off, another 2 would appear, and taunt me. It was as if the miles went on forever. I started to think that even at the halfway point I’d be counting down as many as I’d just come. And with each mile getting more difficult as the sun grew hotter; the pain becoming sharper with every few strides; the will to finish growing weaker by the moment, I was doomed. This was horrible. What a stupid idea. Why the hell was I doing this to myself?
It was around mile 65 that I seriously considered calling Horseypants and asking her to, “just tell me I can do it!!!” I just needed to hear someone in my corner, cheering me on. I’d just come off a night of being pilloried on the SkateLog forum about a post on cycling. I started to feel like I didn’t have a friend in the world. I had become the last man in the world. It was a lonely place. Hell, I’d even considered a 911 prayer for a benevolent cyclist to come along and allow me to draft him! I was really starting to crumble under the pressure. What a f@#$%&g disgrace.
Alas, I knew that calling out for Horseypants’ reassuring voice would not only make me sound like a drama queen, but that I’d probably start bawling and yelling that I just couldn’t do it. It would be the thing that let me quit. I just couldn’t do it. So I pushed on…pushed those thoughts out and focused on form and music. Just pure skating. No grand plans, no love of the sport, no blog or message boards or new Simmons Pro M1’s on the way, just skating the best I could. That seemed to work for a while.
Then, around mile 75, I came up on my truck again. Each time I’d seen it earlier in the day, I was immune to it’s wily, cool charm. Sure, it was calling to me…”Come, have a little rest. Relax, no one will know.” But each time before I’d been able to shake it off. Being able to resist that temptation gave me power; made me stronger. It was a good boost that would last for at least a mile after the encounter.
This time though, the urge to throw my stupid goals to hell, get in the back seat, crawl into the fetal position and cry myself to sleep held very strong appeal. It was a battle I didn’t expect to have to fight, and one that nearly cost me the war…
I shook it off, but this time it left a bitter taste. There was nothing empowering in the stupidity of pushing on in this heat, through this pain, and into God knows what kind of fatigue or injury on the trail ahead. Each little pebble in the trail was now, for some reason, finding it’s way under my wheels on the interior push of my double push, nearly taking me down with what seemed like every single stride. I found myself muttering in the foulest of terms, very much akin to the way my Grandfather did when playing golf. (That’s where I acquired my command of the finer f@#$%&g points of our c@#ks$%^#ng language. Fine church going man that he was and all…) Seriously, at this point I threw it all away:
- I’m going to just stop and call it a day.
- I’ll take the rest of the year off – maybe next year too.
- F#$k it – I QUIT! QUIT SKATING FOR GOOD!
- My KIDS QUIT!!
- I’M GOING TO SELL ALL OF OUR CRAP ON NETTRACING!!!
- Screw this stupid blog!
- SkateLoggers can bite my REAR END!
- I’M GOING TO TAKE UP CYCLING!!!!!!!!!!
It’s rare, if ever, that I’ve been so completely convinced that a decision was right. I was near tears. All I needed to do was find the coordination to plow my way to a stop, turn around, go back to the truck and cry, cry, cry and then cry some more. I’d have to plow stop because my right ankle was at this point about to fall off, and I thought for sure I’d spin out if I tried a t-stop with the left. This s#%t was for the birds man, I was done. I started to see weird reflections of myself in the glossy finish of the Sequoia each time I passed it…
Then, I don’t know how it occurred to me, but I realized I was going crazy from the heat. I thought about those guys that do those endurance races across the Sahara Desert. Surly this couldn’t be as bad as that. But wow, even with the way I was steadily hydrating, it would do nothing to stop the heat madness from creeping in to try and spoil the party. The survival instinct is not a friend when trying to face adversity.
I b-slapped myself…”SNAP OUT OF IT MAN!” I started negotiating with the itty-bitty committee in my head…here I was, 40 years old, everything to live for, and really nothing to prove. I was making good time, better than I had the last two times I’d skated this far in a single skate. If I could just hold out another 25 miles, I’d make a personal best record and be able to walk away having achieved something. I could justify stopping – the heat was to the point of being unbearable. It was about 12:45, so it was just about the peak of the afternoon heat. I had enough SmartWater to get through the rest of the course. And I could eliminate the hills and try and stay in the shade by doing the truck-to-east run just 2 more times.
This was the responsible thing to do and it felt good. I could be happy with the outcome. I’d be able to look my family, the Rink Rabbits, the Sunday Morning Speed Team, my co-workers, my Facebook friends, my friends at SkateLog and you, the FirstLoser reader, and know that I did the right thing. For the first time in a long time I knew “a moment of clarity.” It was exhilarating. There was absolutely nothing in this world and there’d be no one, including the man in the mirror or the Monday morning quarterback,that would ever be able to convince me I needed to do anything different. I’d never second guess this. I felt it through the core of my being. I knew the insatiable need to be completely satisfied had been met by one effortless sigh of relief knowing that I could walk away from this with what I’d already done and be proud. All this transpired over a 5 mile negotiation and settlement, followed by a 3 mile Roman orgy of back slapping, and congratulations. From here, it would just be another 17 miles to glory!
Then the phone rang…it was Horseypants. She was telling me that I needed to stop, that it was 102 degrees. I told her what I’d just decided, assured her I could finish and that I’d be done in a little over an hour. From here on out, I found a new purpose in each stride. Even though I wanted to gnaw off my right ankle, I pushed through. I knew I could finish this. I was afraid of what my ankle would look like, and was pretty sure I wouldn’t be skating again for a couple of weeks, but I was going to finish 100 miles in less than 7 hours, and that was a goal I felt really good about. I executed my revised plan and skated the “bunny course” two more times to round out an even 100 miles. I sprinted the last 1/2 mile and hit a 2:48 pace as I was finishing mile 100. That was a rush, but I’d overshot the truck by about a 1/4 mile, so I had to double back before I was truly done. In the euphoria that came in the moment after hitting the little red button on my Garmin to stop the clock, I dropped my right foot back into a t-stop and let out the loudest “AHHH FUDDDGGGEEEE” you’ve ever heard. I was sure I’d snapped my ankle. It was the exclamation mark that was the cap off of the day!
In the end it was all about being prepared to do what was necessary to walk away from this event satisfied. I took from it what I gave it, 100% of all it was worth. It wasn’t about cunning, or brute strength of will, it was about passion. I was able to spend 7 hours outdoors doing what I love to do most. I was able to really focus on trail form and find a comfort zone with a new stride. I’ll never do another skate like this in the summer again, but to do it again, and go further, faster, is something that’s going to happen. It’s in my blood.
As much as I love skating indoors, I’ll never lose my passion for the trail. Outdoors is where I was smitten, and where I’ll forever be in passionate love with this sport.
As it turns out, my ankle was just responding to carbon fiber pressure on a pressure point. I didn’t even have a blister! I’d overcompensated with the padding around my ankle bone doing more harm than good. I was able to skate the next morning with the Rink Rabbits, and on Sunday I was timed doing 100m 2 /10th of a second off my personal best lap time. Hydration and recovery nutrition are key with something like this. I skated the rest of that week, and I really came to feel the power of that session. I call it “getting my 100 mile legs.”
My big take away from all this is really nothing new…don’t take any of this stuff too seriously. Be open-minded and flexible. Set reasonable goals, don’t back away from a challenge and be happy with your decisions. If you can look yourself in the mirror and say with 100% honesty that you gave it all you had, than that’s worth owning, no matter what it applies to.
Where do I go from here? I spent a lot of time thinking about why I do this, and I’ve come to some conclusions and I’ve revised some long terms goals. More on that in a future post. For the time being, I’ll keep training like I do, and get ready to meet up with all my friends on 9/11/10 in Duluth. Then, maybe next year, I’ll try A2A…
Training Log – I’ve been skating a lot. A whole lot. More than I care to detail here. It’s summer and this is what I do. Every morning, every lunch time, and now most evenings too. Taking rest days here and there, but mostly having a great time on wheels. I’ve been getting ready for Duluth. I’ve downgraded my wheels, put axle grease in my bearings, strapped weights on each leg, and do a lot of interval work on hills. My coach tells me this is going to help a lot. It hurts a lot, I can tell you that. But I want to beat my time from last year…that’s what it’s all about for me.
I’ve been going to races too. Spent some time at Outdoor Nationals…see if you can tell who SpeedyWeezy & I are hanging out with as we watch Jim Larson make a new record for the Master’s Mens 300m (5 legends, 3 you can spot):
It’s a busy week…a couple of guys under that tent are coming to Fort Collins to give a clinic at Rollerland on Sunday. More to come…Jamaican style (so don’t hold your breath – “soon come, mon!”)