Ah, the glory of a belt buckle! (For someone who does not wear belts.)
I found the Bartram Forest 100s in Milledgeville Georgia, 14-15 December. This event offers both 100-mile and 100 kilometer distances. The format is a 10-kilometer (6.25-mile) trail loop in a small forest tract. The terrain is gentle and slightly rolling, with a few short technical stretches.
The timing (2 weeks after completing the “One-Two-Three”) was perfect. The simple logistics (a single 10K loop) make it easy to run self-supported - without investing in elaborate hydration or lighting systems. This would be a great “rookie 100”.
Training for and completing the “One-Two-Three” was a great experience. Each event brought a new feeling of strength and confidence, and each brought a higher level of clarity and gratitude. The Bartram 100 would be the culmination of an amazing season for me - a season that would include two 100-mile firsts: mountain bike and run. I could be a real legend in my own mind.
If the “One-Two-Three” was the icing on the cake, the Bartram 100 would be the icing on the icing!
So close to the winter solstice - even in Georgia - this run included plenty of nighttime running. (Read: cautious). The field of 75 runners (total field for both distances) started promptly at 7am under still dawning overcast skies, and cool temps. We looped around the Midway Elementary School grounds and entered the “forest”. The Bartram Forest consists of sporadic plantations of Loblolly Pine, some mixed stands of hardwood, latticed with power-line clearings. Our running route alternated between double-track service roads and single track trails.
Halfway through the first loop, headlamps were no longer necessary. I am not accustomed to running at night on trails with a headlamp. This short dawn segment alerted me to the conditions I would experience for 13 hours or more after sunset. I have difficulty with depth perception in the dark. I decided to make maximum use of daylight: I would minimize walking intervals and wait until dark to take any rest breaks.
I had decided to wear Vibram 5-Fingers (the Trek Sport) for the first 25 miles to deliberately slow my pace and get a real feel for the course. There were only a few sections of large chunky gravel and a few sections of roots and small rocks that provided any discomfort. The 5-Fingers were working well. However, my legs were questionable. As I finished the first 10K loop, I began to feel tightness in my left calf and the back of my knee. Was this a precursor of things to come?
At the school, there was a small area designated for crews and runners to set up personal areas. It was located in an alcove just beyond the start/finish/aid area. After each loop, I paused here to mix another bottle of Perpetuem and make any clothing changes. It was a bit crowded, but adequate. Since I had travelled by air, I had no chairs or tables. My supplies sat on a curb, in one little area.
Focusing on the first 25-miles, I maintained an even pace with no effort. However, there was some “shadow” of doubt in my mind that was echoed in my left calf and knee. My anticipation of the weather forecast (“100% chance of rain. Heavy at times.”) played into that mental unease. Throughout that first 25 miles (4 laps), the challenge was to return my mind to the moment, not anticipating the future. My legs were “complaining” more than usual for the distance covered.
I rolled through that first 25 in a leisurely 5:48.
Let it Rain
After changing into the New Balance Trail Minimus shoes, I kept on rolling. During the next lap, it began to drizzle. By 2:00 pm, it was raining steadily. I donned the $34 poncho I had purchased just before leaving home. Between 3 and 4 pm we had some heavy downpours. Stretches of the course were now small flowing streams. However, only a few small segments were truly slippery.
As the rain continued, my anxiety about the weather forecast dissipated. Yes, I was wet, but I felt grateful to be here and able to run, and I was maintaining enough body heat to stay warm. Conditions really were not all that miserable. I started to relax more and my mind settled down. My next goal was to complete 8 laps (50 miles) - the halfway point - before nightfall.
As I patiently progressed, I joked with the runners, volunteers and race staff. “Hmmm, I hear the forecast is for rain” I offered to some during the downpours. (Not too many found the humor in that.) As I rolled through the start/finish area, and prepared for the next lap, I would say “Well, I guess I’ll head out and see if I can do a little more damage to my legs”. (Half joke, half true.) I offered encouragement to every one I encountered on the course. I was positive and playful.
”I can do this.”
The Inner Journey
I plodded on - mostly in solitude. While I originally cast this event as an extension of the “2013 One-Two-Three”, I was now drawn to dedicate this quest to my closest relations - Betsy, my mother, my siblings and close friends. I meditated on how fortunate I am to have such wonderful people in my life.
As a mystic, I seek out solitude every day and I thrive on it. It is vital to my connection with spirit and with the mystery of life. I need to experience the magic, the paradox, the wilderness of life everyday. I rely heavily on my practice of zendurance as a “mystic athlete” for this daily dose. However, without the interaction - the “dance” - of my relationships, I get disoriented and myopic. The mystery starts to evaporate. Bitterness creeps in.
The precipitation settled into a steady drizzle. My legs felt progressively more stiff and sore - especially my left knee. I was mindful of each step and present with the discomfort. I continued with my reflection: When challenges arise in my relationships, its easy for me to turn to my other passions - zendurance training and racing, writing and teaching. However, currently the “area of greatest opportunity” in my life is to refine my presence and mindfulness in relationships to an equal level.
At 7 laps (43.75 miles) the skies were dark enough that I needed to take a headlamp. My legs were significantly more stressed and fatigued now than they had been at the finish of the the JFK 50-Mile - 3 weeks prior. Not an encouraging sign. However, I was willing to be present with the discomfort and continue this quest for 100, and my reflection on relationships. As the skies got darker, I began to walk more than run. I was concerned about disabling my left knee to the extent that I could no longer continue at all. It wasn’t the “run” I envisioned, but it was better than quitting.
My time-per-lap slowed from about 1 hour 35 minutes per lap to 2 hours 5 minutes per lap. Humbling, but still plenty of time to finish. The humility and discomfort provided great fuel for my reflection on relationships: The opportunity, and my commitment to improvement. If I can persevere so well in my athletic quests, I can certainly bring that even more into my relationships.
The drizzle continued, and so did my progress. I was focused now on completing 10 laps for 100 K. However, during lap 9, I could feel my biomechanics - both walking and running - deteriorate significantly. At 56.25 miles, I took my first rest break and laid down in the warming tent for 20 minutes.
I had a very tough time getting my stiff legs to function again when I set out. I struggled to gain hip and knee joint mobility in my left leg. Finally, about 1 mile into lap 10, I was no longer walking like a wounded soldier. I was walking strong. Running however was no longer feasible if I wanted to avoid injury. I knew if I could complete 13 laps (130 K, or 81.25 miles) I would be “over the hump”.
Despite my state of biomechanical degradation, my outlook remained positive. After midnight, the drizzle was fairly light. As I encountered others (most of whom were looking far better than me) I would offer encouragement, and sometimes add in “What a great night for a stroll.”
There were times where I had great difficulty lifting my left leg to move it forward, but I felt undeterred. Between laps - at my “pit area” - I took humor in how difficult it was to change batteries in my headlamp, and to mix my fuel bottles.
”I can do this.”
Around 3:30 am - after 14 hours - the drizzle stopped. Just like everyone else out on the course, I was wet from head to toe. Around 5 am, the winds began to pick up as the temperature gradually started to drop. Despite being wet for so many hours, as long as I kept moving, I was generating just enough body heat to stay warm.
I “zendured” on until... I completed my 13th lap!! Finally, I was over the “hump”. Just 30K to go. In another hour, it would be light. I took a short break to add a layer of clothing and lay down with my legs elevated for 10 minutes.
The trade-off for pausing to rest was the extreme difficulty I experienced just getting my legs to function again - especially my left knee and hip. My attitude was positive but my neuromuscular function was failing. It took me a full mile of slow hobbling to get any length into my walking stride. I would not be able to take any more breaks.
During that 14th lap, daylight returned. Trail negotiation eased up a bit, but it was still muddy and slick in some sections. One misstep in my condition could result in immobility.
Even the slightest incline or decline was a significant challenge for me in my deteriorating condition. I have always held a great respect for ultra trail runners and for legendary 100-mile events with 20-30,000 feet of elevation or more. The difficulty I now experienced on this gentle terrain significantly increased that respect. Will I ever experience the exhilaration of such an epic 100?
I completed my 14th lap. With great difficulty, I mixed another bottle of fuel and set right out again. However, I was barely able to move my left leg at all. Determined to continue, I set a goal of getting to the 1-mile mark. That had worked for the previous laps; it would work again. However, once I got on the trail, I had to find a stick and use it as a cane to minimize weight on my left leg. If the stick broke, I would probably be “stranded”.
I made it to the 1-mile mark. I turned around. I hobbled back and withdrew... at ninety miles.
So close. But no belt buckle. The second “DNF” of my racing career.
No belt buckle, but I do have a valuable “take home”: I have a great capacity - mentally, emotionally and physically - to endure and to persevere when things don’t seem to be in harmony. And that capacity extends beyond my zendurance training and racing. It includes my relationship practice. When I encounter challenges in my relationships, I can persevere, without the need to immediately seek refuge as the mystic athlete.
I am committed to “pushing the envelope” in my relationships with the same passion I have for ultra training and racing, for teaching and writing. This is vital for a full, complete and rich life. And I owe it to all who support and nurture me.
Zenman’s Training Journal: Introduction
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