“Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Ernest Shackleton
Wow! That sounds like fun.
Years ago, I read the book Endurance. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. The book tells the true story of Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to cross the Antarctic in 1914 on the ship Endurance. Long story short, the ship became looked in an ice flow and was eventually crushed, leaving the men stranded. They drifted on the ice for about a year, and then launched some small boats and made it to Elephant Island. Anyway, the story of what these guys had to overcome to survive is amazing. I found it ironic that the name of their ship was Endurance. To survive, the men had to endure a lot. Speaking of endurance, it’s been a while since I’ve written about the marathons I’ve been running this year.
The goal I made at the beginning of the year was to complete 12 marathons in 2023. It’s July and I’ve done 11 ½. The last time I wrote about one of my runs was back in April. That was the Seabrook Marathon. The night before that run I slept on my sailboat, and it started sleeting on us during the run. Since then, I’ve run an ultra-marathon, two off-road marathons, an off-road half-marathon, and an overnight marathon. Of all, the off-road trail marathons REALLY kick my a$$.
So here it is, July 16th. In 6 days I’ll complete my goal. This last marathon will be this Saturday in Phoenix. Coincidentally, next Saturday will also be my 57th birthday. Each year, I do big adventures on my birthday. Although I initially didn’t intend to finish the goal I set for the year on my birthday, back in March I decided to go for it. The run in Phoenix is a 50K (31 miles) ultra-marathon in the desert. Another off-road trail run. Since it’s in Phoenix, it’s going to be hot. The good news is that the start time for the run is 7:30 PM. This will give me a little break from the heat, but not much. It’ll still be over 100 degrees at start time, but it’s a dry heat.
Today, I’m going to write a short summary about my last five runs. With each, there were lessons learned and interesting things that happened. To get started, we will jump back to my very first ultra-marathon in Waxahachie. By the way, the most entertaining stuff I’ll write today is at the end. There’s even a short bonus video that you’ll want to be sure to watch as I perform surgery on myself with a boxcutter. Enough talk. Let’s get started.
The Hachie 50 took place on April 22nd in Waxahachie, Texas. Waxahachie is a town just south of Dallas. This was to be my very first ultra-marathon. Anything that’s over 26.2 miles is considered an Ultra. The distance I would run would be 50K, or a little over 31 miles. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish. That’s a whole lot of miles.
I got to Waxahachie late on Friday night. I grabbed some fast food for dinner and went to bed. I stayed at a cheap hotel by the park where the run would take place. I didn’t sleep well. I woke up several times in the night with stomach pains. “Man, I hope this passes.” The alarm went off at 5:30 AM. I knew I was in for a tough day because the stomachache did not go away. It got worse. On top of that, I felt like I was getting a head cold. “Perhaps I’m just nervous.” After all, it was my first ultra.
Ask any person who does endurance sports like distance running, or biking, and they’ll all tell you that a common worry is having to use the restroom mid-race. I know it sounds crazy, but everyone worries about it. The sponsor of this run was a fast-food place popular in north Texas called Taco Casa. I love Taco Casa. Wanting to support the race sponsor, I visited Taco Casa the night before for dinner. I was hungry, and I needed to load on carbs. I ate too much. The race start time was 7:30 AM. My hotel was located about five minutes from the starting point. At 6:50 AM, I was still at the hotel. My stomach was in knots. “Well hell! Why did this have to happen today.” Yes, thoughts about not going crossed my mind. I messed around at the hotel a few more minutes and decided to go on to the park where the event was set to take place. After arriving at the park, my ailment had not improved. On the way to the starting area, I hit the restroom again. “This is going to be a long day,” I told myself. I 100% didn’t feel like running one mile, much less thirty-one. I stood around waiting for the start. I finally made the decision that I would at least start and if things got bad, I would pull out. Failing while trying is always better than not trying. This run got very dark, very quick. On top of the stomach pains, I started feeling achy all over. I soon figured out that what I had was not just a stomach issue. I was really sick. The course was three, 10-mile, out-and-back loops. Fortunately, they had plenty of restrooms along the run. As I said, this run got dark. What do I mean by that? Well, when I am out of energy, both mentally and physically, I find fuel by thinking about some of the most difficult struggles in my life. Those times when it felt like all hope was lost, but I found a way to carry on. I also think about other people in my life that have had to face huge challenges and how they overcame them. To get fuel from these thoughts, I have to really “feel” the thoughts. It’s very emotional. One thing I remember from the race is the pathway we ran went alongside a cemetery. I was on my third lap and feeling like crud. I was having a poor pitiful me moment when I glanced over and saw a lady in her 30s sitting at a gravesite crying. You could tell the burial had been recent. As I said, I find fuel from dark places. “Okay, Chris. Get your shit together and finish this damn race,” I said to myself. I thought about that lady on and off until I crossed the finish line. After the race, I got my medal, headed for my Jeep, and drove 4-hours home. I truly was sick. For the next 5 days, I was in rough shape. Unfortunately, my next run was in a couple of weeks, so I missed a week of training.
On the weekend of May 6th, I did a two-fer. On Saturday, I ran the Hidden Hills Trail Run Marathon in Graham, Texas. The next morning. on Sunday, I ran the Wildflower Trail Run Half-Marathon in Bastrop, Texas.
The Hidden Hills was my first off-road, or trail marathon. No concrete. Just dirt and hills. The drive from Houston to Graham is about 6 hours. I got to Graham Friday night. I ate at a little Italian place. The spaghetti and meatballs were tasty. Race time was 7 AM. I took a cooler full of drinks and ice. The temperature was going to be close to 100, which is nuts since it was May. The course was four out-and-back loops. There were some hills, but overall, it was not that bad. The run was pretty much uneventful with the exception of the heat. My sister came down. Having her there was fun. As I said, the heat was the big story of the day. Many people either quit or switched from the full marathon to the half-marathon. Because of this, I won my age group! As I always tell my kids, all you’ve got to do is just outlast the competition. You can pretty much count on other people to quit when things get uncomfortable. One thing of note in this run was that on lap three, I came across a guy that was visibly having a hard time. I asked him if he was okay. He said he was just overheated. I told him I would pace with him for a while because I was hot too. As we jogged along, we talked. He was a teacher in Denton. It was his first marathon. He only signed up because a buddy had pressured him to do it. His buddy quit after lap one. He was now out here on his own. I stayed with him for about two miles. During that time, we talked, and I offered him some words of encouragement. I mainly told him that if he quit, he would regret it. He had to find a way to finish. As I was heading in on lap four to finish, I passed him still heading out on his final lap. He thanked me for slowing and helping him out. A week or so after the race, I looked him up online. I sent him a message. I was happy to confirm that he did in fact finish the race. I like that. Anyway, I crossed the finish line, grabbed a bite to eat with my sister, Taco Casa, and began the 4-hour drive back to Austin so I could rest up for another off-road run tomorrow. Here’s a shot of Kelley and I at the finish line.
The marathon in Graham wore me out. That heat was something else. When I went to bed Saturday night, I called Jamie and told her I would be making a game-time decision on whether I would be running the half-marathon the next day. Being another off-road run, I knew it was going to be difficult.
I woke up Sunday morning and took some Tylenol. After I showered, I felt pretty good. I decided that even though I didn’t feel like I could run 13 hilly off-road miles, I could at least show up at the starting line. That’s what I did. Of course, once I got to the starting line I decided to run. The course was two laps, out-and-back. It was mostly singletrack through the forest, up and down hills. We had a cloud cover through a big part of the race. On my second lap, it started raining and a thunderstorm hit us. I welcomed the cool relief. For the last 4 miles, I was yo-yoing back and forth with a girl who was about 30. She eventually asked if she could just pace behind me. I said, “Of Course.” We talked a little. This was her 2nd run for the year. She had done the Austin half-marathon. I told her I did that run too. She said she had a big group of friends and family waiting for her at the end. When we reached the last turn before entering the finish area, I stepped off the trail and invited her to pass. I told her I wanted to make sure they got good pictures. After the race, she asked if she could get a picture of us. We shot the picture and she thanked me for pacing her in. She said, “I was tired, but I just watched your feet and did what you did. You’re like a machine.” I laughed and said, “A machine that runs really slow.”
On June 3rd, I ran the Tejas Trail Marathon in Spicewood, Texas. Spicewood is a small town just outside of Austin. The course was very hilly. Like, EXTREMELY hilly. I guess that’s why they call it the Hill Country. In a few places, I had to use my hands to get up the steep parts of the course. This wasn’t really a 26-mile run. It was a 26-mile hike. There were a lot of things memorable about this run. First, the run was well-supported. The guy that checked me in was in his 70s. He said he used to be a runner. I told him this was my first time to run this race. His reply back was that I should add at least two hours to my normal marathon time. It’s very difficult. I thought he was embellishing. He wasn’t. On race day, it was hot. Almost 100 degrees. People were dropping out or changing their intended distance. The course was four out-and-back loops. As I was finishing lap two, I made the decision that I was going to drop back to a half-marathon distance. I was hot, out of gas, and I had an evening pool party back in Houston that I promised Jamie I would attend with her. As I crossed the start-finish line, I went over to a support table to get something to drink. When I got to the table, the old guy from the day before was there. “Chris! You’re doing great. You keep it up for all of us old guys. Man, I would give anything to be out there running with y’all.” I smiled and then turned to head to the area where I would turn in my timing bracelet and let the person in charge of time know that I was done. On the way to that area….. Yup. You guessed it. I finished my drink, ate some chips, and headed back out for lap three. I couldn’t quit. Between laps three and four, I took a break to eat a sandwich I had bought the day before at a gas station. You know, one of those sandwiches in the triangular plastic box? Anyway, I was starving for some real food. I took a huge first bite and for some reason, the bite seemed to be stuck to the sandwich. As I pulled the sandwich from my mouth, a rather large, and long black hair appeared. It was long like a piece of spaghetti draped between my sandwich and my mouth. I thought about tossing the sandwich, but I was hungry. I ate it anyway. I went on to find a way forward to complete the run.
Since I had a four-hour drive home, in the parking lot before I left, I wrapped myself in a big towel, took my clothes off, and took a “bath” of sorts using another towel and some water. I had parked a little off the beaten path, but as I’m having my bath, a lady walks up, sees my gym bag with the logo from another marathon, and wants to have a conversation, “It’s funny how we all run in the same crowd. Did you do the Kingwood Marathon too?” Although I gave her the I’m busy and need some privacy look, the questions just kept coming. I figured, if she’s cool with it then I’m cool too. I continued on about finishing my bath while having a polite conversation with this stranger about running marathons. When I finished, I started the four-hour drive back to Houston. I needed to hurry because I still had a pool party to attend. The party was in Baytown. About 30 miles east of Houston. Jamie didn’t really think I would make it to the party, so she went on without me. I can’t remember exactly what time I hit Houston, but I took a quick shower, changed clothes, and headed for Baytown. On the way over, I saw a guy riding a unicycle down Interstate 10. I thought perhaps I was delirious, but nope. Some guy really was riding a unicycle on the interstate highway. I got to the party at about 7 PM. Folks were surprised I made it. A promise is a promise. I ate BBQ and drank beer until about 10:30 PM. We then headed home. I was dead dog tired, but I was determined to fulfill all of my intentions on this day, and I did. The next morning, I woke up and my feet were in bad shape. All of the downhill running had taken its toll; Especially on one of my toenails. It was bleeding from the end of the nail. Jamie suggested that I soak my feet in some Epsom salt. Finding a container to soak my feet was difficult. I finally settled on Jamie’s 13X9 inch Pyrex baking dish. Jamie was gone shopping, so I shot a picture of me soaking my feet in her pan and texted it to her. I thought it was funny. She didn’t. The next day she baked me some brownies. Although she said she made them in the pan I soaked my feet in, I knew by the size of the brownie stack and the thickness of each brownie she had to have used a smaller pan. Of course, I ate them all.
This brings us to last week’s run. The run in Fort Worth is called Hell’s Half Acre. There’s a story behind the name, but I’ll skip it. It’s a concrete road course that runs beside some river. What’s unique about this run is that it started at 10 PM.
The goal of the run organizer was to give us runners a break from the heat. It was 92 degrees with tons of humidity when we started. My sister, the doctor, came to watch over me. Kelley was a real trooper and stayed out there with me all night long. That’s some special kind of a sister right there. The course was eight, out-and-back loops. Each time I came through, Kelley had an ice-cold drink ready. Oh, remember the soaking feet story? Well, my feet got better, but the toenail on my right foot got worse. Kelley looked at my toe before the run and said, “It doesn’t look good.” It was hurting a little. Since the run in Spicewood three weeks prior where I injured it, I had been taking it easy. Anyway, despite my best effort to try and save my toenail, Hell’s Half Acre was determined to take it. At mile 15, the pain in my toe was unbearable. I was forced to do this jog-shuffle that was about the same as walking. By about mile 20, part of my foot went numb and I finally had some relief. After the race, I pulled off my sock to discover the toenail was only partially connected. I showered and went to bed. When Kelley and I woke up a few hours later, Kelley looked at it and said I should go to urgent care and have them remove the nail. It was really sore. She said they would give me a shot to numb the toe while they did the nail removal. Well, I did have surgery on my toe. However, I didn’t go to urgent care. I did it myself: With a boxcutter when I got back home to Houston. I thought it would be kind of funny to do it myself. Besides, it was Sunday afternoon, and I didn’t want to mess with going to a clinic. I thought making light of the “procedure” would ease the pain and get my mind off the fact that I was slicing on myself with a boxcutter. Well, it helped; A little. My pet woodland animal friend and personal shaman, Dr. James Squirrel Jones, assisted me in the surgery. If you’re curious, with the help of Jamie, my awesome videography, I made a short video of the surgery. Although the video is funny, there are a couple of parts where the squeamish might choose to look away. Here’s a link; https://youtu.be/HCApKx-iN2U
Well, that wraps up the last few runs I’ve completed. They’ve not been easy. I guess that’s why long-distance running is called an endurance sport. To do them, you must learn to endure. Gaining the ability over the past few years to endure more and more is a big contributor to living the life I’ve lived. Over time, I’ve developed a belief that almost anything is possible if I set my mind to it. Sure, I know there are plenty of things that are way outside of my ability, but continually pushing myself has opened an entire other world of possibilities.
Two years ago, I set a goal to one day race a sailboat in a real offshore race. I had just started taking sailing lessons and I was at a Leadership Galveston class. On this day, what appeared to be about 50 sailboats gathered offshore around Pleasure Pier. Locals told me it was the start of the Harvest Moon Regatta. I saw all of those boats with their beautiful sails and I said, “One day I’m going to do that.”
Well, yesterday I attended a class called Harvest Moon Regatta 101. It was for people like me. Actually, it was for people unlike me who actually have both offshore and racing experience. I have neither, but I’ll figure it out. At the class, I met a guy named Walter who lives in College Station. Walter is 58 and is about my size. Although he’s somewhat new to sailing, he told me he graduated from Galveston A&M and worked on ships offshore for many years. Walter and I hit it off. His boat is in the marina right next to mine. We exchanged contact info and agreed to help each other out. During our conversation, Walter told me that one day he wants to sail his boat to the Dry Tortugas. I told him that I wasn’t real sure where that was, but it sounded like an amazing adventure. That’s what I like about sailing. You go out there and you never know for sure how it’s going to turn out. It’s an adventure every time. The Harvest Moon Regatta is set to begin on Thursday, October 26th. Between now and then, I have a lot to do to get my boat ready. I also have a lot to learn about sailing offshore too. During the seminar yesterday, the point they stressed the most was that you must have a crew of at least four people since this is an overnight race. The speaker said finding crew is one of the most difficult and most important parts of this race. I have two recruits thus far. I need a couple of more. So with that: Men or Women Wanted for Hazardous Journey. No wages, it might be cold, one night of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return is likely. Honour and recognition in case of success.
As always, I hope you Find Your Adventure and Live Your Life.
PS-I leave on Friday for the Phoenix run. On top of my birthday run, Jamie has another adventure lined up for me. Hopefully, I’ll get to cross another one off of The List. If you don’t know about The List, here’s a link – https://bmfadventureclub.com/the-list/