In three hours, I'm setting off for, literally, the hardest physical feat of my life until now. Robb Kerr, Katie Tibbetts, and I are heading into the mountains to circumnavigate the mountain trail systems that make a giant 80+km (50+ miles) loop around the city that is currently our home. This feat has been, as far as we know, accomplished only once, by another foreigner named Mark Jolin, who did it with what seemed like minimal preparation and very little fanfare (other than his GPS track found here).
While the distance will be the most I've ever done, that is not what I'm particularly worried about. It is more the elevation that has me a little anxious. We will be gaining a total of about 21,000 feet or 6500 meters of elevation gain, and that is in a mountain range where we never reach 1000 meters. This means a lot of up, down, up, down, up, down, and then some really big ups, and downs.
While Jolin, who clearly must be a badass, did not need to prepare, we have gone to great lengths to run sections of this, think about routes and directions, sort out areas of the trail where we might get confused, and basically try and minimize anything that will sap any additional energy from us on this journey.
Yesterday the three of us were up at 6AM driving around for 4 and half hours to do food and water drops, and even that was tiring! Meticulous thought went into these drops, and I tried to make it so, given a 24 hour time, I am consuming close to 300 calories an hour. Here is the list of things in each drop: I tried to imagine myself in the frame of mind I will be in as we make our drop bag pick-ups over the next 24 hours.
I've kind of adapted a strategy of not viewing it as a long mountain run, but more a food pickup mission on foot. I have roughly fifty bucks worth of groceries that my wife would be disappointed in me if I didn't retrieve and consume!
Last Wednesday, about nine days ago, I was jumping over a highway median as we were out on a night run, and I tweaked my ankle. Didn't roll it, but just came down on it hard enough to hurt something. I thought I might be able to run it off, but couldn't. Ended up turning around, but still ran 6 or 7km's on it, got home and iced it, went to bed. The next morning it was swollen and hurt to walk on! My heart sank as I realized that this would probably be the death of this run, but I have managed to heal pretty much fully. But, and this is a big but and I cannot lie, I have not run on it in nine days! My first run back on it will be this 80km! My plan is to evacuate if it starts acting up in the first 10km, but I am optimistic that it is strong enough.
I sliced my finger to the point of needing stitches while I was trying to make a drinking tube hole in the top of my backpack. I didn't go to the hospital, but cleaned the cut and super-glued it. I'm just hoping it does not bust open on the trail.
This morning I was doing some house duties and managed to inhale too much bleach, which made my eyes sting and gave me a dull headache all day, and I feel slightly short of breath (not a good sign when the first 3km of our run will have a 400 meter climb!
So, basically, I'm making this harder than it needs to be. Please pray for us!
I've decided to leave the Nathan pack at home and go with my bigger 25 liter pack made by Bailo. The Nathan pack would, I fear, leave me a little too at mercy of our speed, and I really don't want to be pressured by conservation, especially on a really hot day as it will surely be tomorrow. The Bailo pack will let me carry extra water and extra food, and I've run in it plenty and know its comfortable.
Compression socks and shorts: never know if it works but if I think they are helping me, then they will be helping me. Placebo or real, I'll take it.
Shoes: Hoka One One Stenson Evo B. 3 pairs of socks: One Smart Wool, one pair of cycling socks from The Sock Guy, and starting off with some tri socks from Primal. I'm planning on using them all.
Headwear. Just a Salomon visor for the sunny sections, and a bandana for the rest of the time.
Clothing. Mountain Hardwear "Way to Cool" shirt, love this amazing wicking garment, and Patagonia Strider shorts, the shorts that you literally forget you are wearing.
knick-knacks: pocket knife, headlamp, 2 liter water bladder, extra water bottle, superglue, ibuprofen, bandaids and bandages, Koday Playsport video cam, Body Glide.
Man, do I have the butterflies. I was going to try and nap before but now I'm just getting amped. Think I'll just listen to this instead!
I'm just psyched to get to try this! Thank you God for making creation Good and giving us your mountains and forests to play in and enjoy. See you all on the flip!
We did not finish. Made it through a good portion of the night, everyone feeling good, my ankle proving it would be strong enough for the journey, and we set into a nice pace through the night. But everyone became aware of the intense humidity and the presence of a heavy, gritty pollen in the air, and it started to work pretty hard on our breathing, enough to render it impossible for Robb to continue. But Katie and I, with heavy hearts, decided to keep going.
At first I couldn't appreciate what I was feeling, a definite sadness that Robb was out-- but it dawned on me that it was deeper than that, something that was inextricably bound with our motivation, excitement, and joy for setting out on what was definitely going to be a punishing journey. The suffering would all make sense and even be redeemed in the light of the ties that we shared as a group, as friends. And as both Katie and I pushed up more climbs through the dark, this realization seemed to set in and take hold. If we are not all going to finish, then why are we doing it? This is a deadly thought at 2AM, but I don't think, even now, that it was inauthentic.
This journey was about friendship, it was never only about the run. This was definitely distinct from a race in this respect. In a race, the finish line beckons, talking you through the rough patches. In this case, it was three friends-- it was the spirit of interdependence-- which we would rely on. And when three became two, it was too much to recover from. The only word I could use to convey this to Katie was heartbreak. Not heartbreak from not finishing, but heartbreak that we were not all there together, getting ready for the next section, laughing and joking, and sharing our tiredness to make it less, to make it better.
In this respect, while I am disappointed, I do not regret our decision. If anything, I am only hungrier for the relationships that something as raw and intense as trail running rewards us with. I think this is my take away from this: to be thankful for such friends. Hmm, I think I just felt a tiny, almost imperceptible, itch for another long run with my crew!