Thursday, October 23, 2008

24 Hours of Boulder - Running Under the Stars

Greetings Readers

When I left for the start of my 6th lap I could see the very last of the sunset disappearing over the Colorado Rockies. I was in awe of the dark orange sky that was slowly being overcome to the dark midnight blue and eventually to the blackness of the night.

What was funny, to me anyway, was that when I was running for the past 9 hours I did look at my watch and thought that I had 23 hours left to run, 20 hours, 18 hours, etc. I never thought of thinking of – gosh I only ran 1 hour, 3 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours, etc. I just thought to myself I have 21 hours to run, 18 hours to run, etc. No worry, but just thinking how much time I had left to.

Glow sticks littered the loop around the start of the lap. I have to admit it was pretty cool sight to see. Kind of reminded me of what a lighted landing strip an airline pilot might see from the nighttime sky.

I brought my glow stick along and I was going to hold onto, but with me holding onto my new water bottle I bought and holding onto the glow stick was going to be too much.

I decided right then to somehow strap my glow stick into my biking glove on the back of my hand thereby not worrying about actually grasping the glow stick. And I only had worry about my water bottle in my hand or in my fingers. The water bottle is not like my cycling water bottles, which in my view was unfortunate. Since I wanted a water bottle to grasp nicely in my hand, but so much for that idea.

Flashback – I was peeing throughout the day, but I know that I was not peeing enough. Which meant that I was not taking in enough liquids. With the start of the 6th lap and the pain in my feet and thighs I knew that nighttime was going to be a “bitch.” And that was when I decided I needed a water bottle.

Readers – I think I heard a “bitch” laughing at me from my past. If any of you faithful Readers have read the Santa Fe Century journal you know what “bitch.” Yes, this is just writing, but believe me I remember as well as she did who laughed last. That “bitch” was waiting for me and she mentally showed up at 24 Hours of Boulder.

Present – The night was basically here and I knew that this where most of the runners quit / said “no mas.” I did not want to become that statistic. I did feel refreshed after my “hot ramen soup,” my little rest break, a change of clothing and the coming of night.

As I was approaching the start line again from the small loop around the parking lot I turned on my battery operated glow stick and set the light for a constant light, as oppose the 7 different flashing modes I have available. Music was playing, there was just a bit of light left to see by, but darkness was coming fast.

I ran by the starting line and thought to myself this is it. What am I in for? How bad is it going to be for me running in the dark? How cold was it going to get? How many runners are left on the course? How bad are my feet? My thighs? Did I bring enough liquids in my new water bottle?

The questions never stopped in my mind. When was the moon going to be up? When did I see the moon the previous night when I went to Cherry Creek Mall and saw the moon coming up over the horizon? Was my glow stick going to be enough light to run with? Am I going to be constantly looking at the ground to see where I am running? Am I going to step into that pile of dog shit that was on the course?

As I was running in the dark on my first lap in the dark, I noticed that my pupils did adjust accordingly and I could see the stars in the sky. Wow. Not as close as being home on the Ranch in New Mexico, but this would do for my part. Funny thing was / is I thought of MIB (Men in Black) and I am pretty fucking sure that I could see the star constellation Orion’s belt in night time sky. What the fuck? I am not sure where or how that thought came into my head, but sure enough I know I saw Orion’s belt

Then, a few minutes later I saw my first of many shooting stars around Boulder Reservoir. And the child in me wished upon it.

So far running the dark was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I kept to my own pace, which by the way was no pace, just putting my foot in front of the other and keeping moving forward. I saw the car lights of the nearby highway, I saw the lights from lampposts around the Boulder Reservoir and then I saw the bobbing of lights on the course. I forgot – most runners had a headlamp on their head shining in from of them. I think I only saw two runners with an actual glow stick. Otherwise, the only glow sticks were scattered along the racecourse. I was thinking that is pretty neat seeing the green glow sticks all along the course.

Those glow sticks were not bright, but when you reached one glow stick you can then see the next glow stick on the course. In theory, I think that helped me to keep focus on running in the dark. I had something to focus and look forward to with each glow stick I came across on.

During the dark I hardly checked exactly what time it was at that moment. What I did do though was keep an ear out for my Ironman watch that I set to go off every 1 hour and 20 minutes. That gave me a sense of how much I have ran between the interval beeps.

I turned the final corner before seeing the halfway point. When I saw the halfway aid station I saw light. White and Orange light. There was a white lamp and then there was an Orange Pumpkin Halloween lights decoration that hung from the tent of the aid station.

I made it halfway in the dark for my first lap. I was slow, but I was steady and I was still going forward. I checked in, asked for some pop and then asked for some pop to be poured into my water bottle. I used the port-a-potty and then ate some snacks at sort of leaned against the wooden fence.

The volunteer who was there manning the station was very nice. Whether it was because it was his nature. Or if I was nice to him. Or if I was physically drained. I do not know, but I thanked him for his assistance while I was there. I got a bit choked up after roughly running about 38 miles and having a volunteer actually treat me as a friend as opposed to just a runner in the night. As much as I wanted to stay at the halfway point I had to get going. After all, I was halfway done with the loop and I had to run back the way I came.

9 P.M. No moon. I would have thought the moon would have been out by now, but nothing. I could see a fine layer of clouds in the sky. Which I think was sent by the biking gods. Oh yes, the biking gods can be kind should you not go against them. I think this was sent to me, us runners, to keep the night temperature warm. Meaning the clouds were retaining the heat of the earth from the day’s sun warmth heating up Mother Earth.

The return loop to the start line was the beginning of the difficulty I never thought I would have. I saw runners run by me like I was standing still. I fucking struggled to keep a weird jog or a power walk I was reduced to walking. I had a fucking struggle with going down hill, but going uphill I had no problem. I had problem with a few steps near the canal.

I also saw “pacers” that were with the runners they were pacing. Pacers were allowed after dark.

Readers, I am going to write about “Pacers” and my opinions, just my opinion, so do not think that is the way I feel about them now. “Pacers” are there to help runner(s) get through the night. Even before thinking about doing the 24 hours of Boulder I gave really no thought to “pacers.” But after a few hours in dark – I now know why a runner may need a “pacer.”

Running in the dark around Boulder Reservoir may break a weak-minded runner. Though this is pure speculation on my behalf. As you Readers read earlier, I was forming questions to myself in the dark. I was looking forward to the next glow stick I saw. I was getting choked up for the kindness of the volunteers. I do not consider myself mentally weak in a manner of speaking, but if I was not strong willed I would have been broken had I depended on the assistance of a pacer in the night.

I did okay, but when a pacer and runner ran past me or towards me I could hear them talking to each other. Conversation in the dark does help one’s mind when you are not alone. Again, I was okay and did not another person to talk and / or listen to. And that may be because I am single and live alone. So being alone running in the dark was really nothing new to me.

Anyway, after some time in the dark thinking about the “pacers” on the course, I am thankful that who ever that “pacer” was - he or she is doing their runner a great deed to help him/her through the night. A runner on the edge of quitting could be persuaded to keep running or walking. As opposed to having a runner thinking all by him or herself on what he/she should do. All it takes is someone to encourage you to keep going.

Me? I did not need encouragement. I just kept looking forward and worried about myself. Though, I started to think how far I had left to run. How far it was from one point on the course to the next point on the course in the dark.

I also kept thinking that I had to run over two dam sections before actually getting on the dirt road and then the paved road and then the final loop to the starting line.

During my return trip I was running alone and thinking of nothing when I felt a presence nearby. Readers I think most of you know you can tell when someone or something is nearby you. You can just sense it. I felt something was close, but not a runner. Thankfully, I was not thinking about scary movies, but the thought of some animal perhaps attacking me in my weaken state was a possibility. After all, I looked and walked like a wounded animal might do. The feeling of something close was getting stronger when all of a sudden I saw a shape in the dark on my left. I immediately moved to the right and got ready for anything. In the moonlight I saw it was a dog. Silently walking nearby me on the left and behind me. I knew this dog was not wild. My alarm soon became at ease since I had a dog keeping me company. You see Readers - “pacers” can make a difference in the runner’s mind in the dark.

I can only estimate, but I figured that I was about two miles away from starting line when I was walking in pain on my right foot. Every step was painful. The ball of my right foot I could feel that blister getting worse.

Coming around that final corner to the see the starting line I was pain. Whether I shut off the pain during that last lap or perhaps knowing that I can now stop and check my foot the pain was there and I noticed big time.

“Red hook tyrant has just finished his 6th lap.”

Wow. Fucking 42 miles. That last lap was worth the extra 7.14 miles to be added to the 35 miles I officially logged in.

For the past 5 laps I check in and then go off to my bag or the snack table. This time I walk straight to the table and ask for a nurse, or a first aid person. He pointed and said over there where there was another runner in the same condition I was in.

“Please take a seat while I finish up with him.”

Readers, I fucking could not sit. I could not bend my knees more than 10 degrees, I imagine. This was fucking incredible. I was not laughing or crying, but worrying about how in the fuck I was going to sit in that chair. As I wrote I had a hell of a time changing into my nighttime running gear. Well, take that moment and double or triple that difficulty. A volunteer came by and offered her hands to help lower me into the seat, but I looked at her solemn face and nodded no. I once more “manned up” and dropped into the chair. I did it, with a great deal of pain and my knees where now in the 90 degree sitting position.

I waited about 5 minutes or so while the nurse attended the other runner next to me. I waited. One volunteer brought me soup and drink while I waited. I was okay sitting and waiting. After all I was off my feet since I had been running and walking for the past 13 and a half hours. Yep, just a little past 10:30 PM.

“Alright your turn” “please put your foot up here”

Easier said than done. Readers, I was in a peaceful, not hurting state of being. I was sitting and resting while eating and drinking waiting for my turn.

Now, taking off my shoe, my sock and trying to will my foot off the ground to get on the medical box was fucking painful. I felt a tear go down the side of my face.

She looked at the bottom of my right foot and then asks someone else to look at my foot and then they ask Reid to look at the bottom of my foot. I was fucking worried why three people had to look at the bottom of my foot when the runner that was next to me getting his foot looked at only had her to look and attend his foot.

They asked questions, I answered. I asked questions, but they could not give a definite answer to my questions. Which I am sure was right and I agree on their stance.

Oh Readers - They tried to pop the blister, but apparently there was nothing to drain. But before attempting to pop they asked me if they want me to have them pop the blister. I think I said something to the effect if it will help please do. Also, if this is going to hurt let me grab onto something so I have something to focus the pain to. They swabbed with alcohol, which made me say, “Stop it tickles.” We all smiled since I said that tickles as opposed to that’s painful. Go figure. They poke and I braced for the needle and clenched my teeth, but apparently I did not even feel the pin prick on the bottom of my foot.

Bottom line – nothing could be done. I put my sock back on and they said alright you can go.

15 seconds later I was still looking at them. They were looking at me. I couldn’t move. I could not fucking get my legs to bend. My legs got stiff while sitting in that chair.

I can not remember how I got up out of that chair, but I can remember just standing right there where I was sitting. I could not make my legs bend and move to walk. Everything got tight in my legs. A volunteer asked if I needed help but I nodded no and said something to the effect let me walk to that table where I can hold onto and stretch my legs.

I felt this type of feeling before, but nothing to the effect I was feeling at that moment. I literally could not walk. I started to get fucking worried. I started to get emotional about not doing another lap. Here it was – about 11 P.M. and it appeared that I was done running. Mentally I was fine, but physically my body has had enough. And my body was telling me that I had done enough miles for this day. No fucking way. Did I not promise myself not to become a statistic of saying “done” between the hours of 6 P.M. and 2 A.M.?

I was literally hobbling around the start area. I was taking baby steps walking. I could not walk like a normal walk. Was this going to be it for me? I tried walking to my backpack near the tree. I tried walking around the tent. And then inside the tent I heard and saw a propane heater. That heat I felt was nice. I saw another chair, just like the one I was in and decided I will take a break. Perhaps all I need was a break. After all, as I kept thinking to myself this is not a race, but an event. I have 24 hours that I paid for.

Runners and pacers were in and out of the tent and near the heater. I was near the entrance of the tent and could feel the propane heat just enough to keep me warm, but I was getting cold from not running (moving) anymore. To me this was the perfect spot, not too close to the heater so I would not nod off to the warmth the heater provided and the cool air kept me awake.

Yet, as I was sitting there I was thinking about doing another lap. I just could not say I was done with 42 miles. I just fucking could not. Fuck no! My body was telling me that I should say no more, but mentally I started to think about 7 laps completed. How cool would that be to come to work and say that I ran 50 miles in Boulder?

No one talked to me, while I was sitting in that chair. Oh yes, they looked at me, but I could not look at them. As I just mentioned I had a decision to make. I had to get motivated.

11:45 P.M. I could not live with myself with only 42 miles completed and the time only being almost midnight. I fucking could not.

I got up. I would have to say sitting did not help at all, but I think it did. I started walking my baby steps around the tent and realized the night was not cold. I only made myself cold since I was in the tent with the propane heater and I had warm air around me. I have to say that I did loose up my tightness.

What got me moving was the time. I thought about the 7.14 mile loop and how much time I had left to complete just one more lap. I roughly had nine hours. Nine hours to complete one lap. Fucking enough time to do one more lap. I was not thinking like I was before like “oh I have 18 hours left.” I was thinking like “I only have 9 hours left. That’s all” Who knew that I would be thinking that way. I was now worried about how much time I had left to complete a lap as opposed to just how many hours I had left in the event.

Flashback – Between the times of 10:30 PM and Midnight I had to go use the Port-o-Potty. While I was on route, using the Port-o-Potty and then returning back to the warm tent, there was a runner heaving and throwing up in the dark near the Port-o-Potties. I could not see him in the dark nor did I actually want to see this runner throwing up. I felt this runner’s pain, but I was thankful that was not me throwing up. He threw up a lot and I could hear every splash of throw up splashing the ground. That sound still haunts one of my memories of the 24 Hours of Boulder.

Present - Just what the Fuck was I doing starting the 7th lap. “Fuck me” I hoarsely whispered out loud. “I can fucking do this!” I said this out loud, but barely above a whisper

And I saw another falling star burn-up right above me.

And the story continues…

Until the next time

Daryl Charley
The Fallen Athlete

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