Monday, February 9, 2009

My Friend Reese

A journey of 100 miles begins with a single step....

Followed by a s^@#load more!

I was privileged this weekend to help Reese through his first 100 mile ultra-marathon. Please read his report before continuing.

I'd like to say he asked me to help him but the truth is I kinda forced myself on him last weekend. I am not sure he was ever excited about the prospect of me joining him in his journey but I'm an asshole and pretty pushing when I want to be. In an effort to give Reese some confidence, and because he's a really super cool guy, I asked Bill, another runner from the club to join me and he gladly accepted. Bill is amazingly fast and amazingly nice and loves to run anytime, anywhere so I knew he'd be in the minute I called him. He brought many more years of running experience with him and I think that helped in the end. He's also great to hang out with and we had some serious fun the whole weekend.

I won't cover the race in detail because that's for Reese to do. I do need to share my experiences though because, well, I was moved.

Remember my impressions at the Redman last year? I had the same feelings this weekend. I felt so unbelievable unworthy to call myself a long-distance runner after watching these athletes. I couldn't get my mind wrapped around the distance. 100 miles! How do you do that? I always break a long run down into pieces but I just couldn't find a way to make it work in my head. When I thought about it, the thought that 50 miles was only 1/2 way actually sounded a lot longer than 100 miles all together!

I debated all day how many miles I would run with Reese given my knee problems. After watching Reese and the other runners come through 20 miles, then 40 miles, I came to the conclusion that I needed to run as much as I could no matter how much it hurt. No race I had planned for this year was worth missing out on getting a piece of this experience. These people were suffering in a way I could never imagine. My knee problems didn't seem all that significant after watching this for a few hours. 

As soon as the sun went down I joined Reese on the trail. It was about 6:30 PM (I think) and I began at about mile 56. Reese was in great spirits which 1)impressed me, and 2)relieved my nerves because I was afraid he would need significant encouragement and I was worried I wouldn't be able to give him what he needed. The fact is, he appeared to not need me at all. He was a rock. I kept making the mistake of asking him if he had any pain. He would just laugh and tell me "yes, everywhere, but nothing significant". I felt stupid for asking but he always made me feel OK about it. He's cool like that.

I had no idea what to do for him. I really didn't. I was so out of my league in this event. After awhile I gave up trying to be something I'm not and did what I know best. I annoyed him. I'm REALLY good at that and it comes so natural. I figured the best way to help him was to keep his mind working and not thinking about the pain. I talked incessantly, I told bad jokes, I tripped on roots and tried to knock him over. In general, I made a nuisance of myself.

Reese spent less time in aid stations than anyone I saw all day. He was focused. He'd stop and get what he needed and then take off again. I actually held him up at most of them because I was very hungry and wanted to eat everything in sight! He had to wait on me at almost every stop. Yea, I'm a GOOOOOOD helper!

Reese never wavered. I know he was hurting because he would tell me every now and then that his energy was down. If he hadn't told me though I would never have known. I'm not exaggerating here either. His demeanor and mood never went bad. His emotional state was steady, no frustration, no anger, no bitching. He was a rock. Either that or he played it well, but I doubt that since he has never held back his feelings toward me even when he hasn't run 65+ miles! He's cool like that also.

My knee never even hinted at pain for the entire 25 miles. By the end of my lap with him, however, I was dead. I was really struggling and sore. My heels were very sore and each step was somewhat painful. My head was lost in fatigue and for some reason my shoulders were extremely tight and sore. I struggled through the last few miles and we made it to the start/finish aid station around 1:30 in the morning I think. Reese took a few minutes to sit down which scared me because he had told me one rule of ultra-ing was "beware the chair". I shouldn't have worried because he was out of it just as quickly as he got in it and he and Bill hit the trail for his last lap. He had run 80 miles. It was 1:30 in the morning. It was getting colder. He'd been up since 4:30 in the morning. He was in a warm tent with plenty of food and places to rest. There was a van with an air mattress in it not more than 50 feet away. Only a few people would know, and they would understand completely, if he gave in to the pain and quit.

Reese ran out of the start/finish area and started his last 20 mile lap.

I almost cried (shut up, I know I'm a sap). It was emotional and inspiring. Reese never acknowledged the facts I stated above. There was never a hint of doubt in his face or his words. He had a goal to achieve and he was going to do it. It was all so mechanical to him. Get up. Run. For a sap like me it was a monumental moment that deserved a background soundtrack with angels and violins. He impressed me. I remember thinking, "This is Reese's world, I'm just living in it".

As I stumbled back to the van to take a nap I pondered whether I could have done it. I had only run 1 lap with him but I could not have turned around and gone back out on that trail for anything. It's hard to explain but remember it was 1:30 in the morning, cold, and I was dirty and sore. Even as I sit here and write this I'm thinking, "sure you could have done it", but I remember clearly thinking that I couldn't at that time. It was surreal. I guess that's the difference between thinking about something and actually being there.

This was not an experience that made me want to go out and run an ultra. I'm not ready. I'm a big kid and usually I feel the need to step up to any challenge. I don't look at ultra's like that now that I've seen one first-hand. I know they are out of my league. I won't even fool myself into thinking differently and I'm great at being a fool. But not that good.

Thanks for listening

It's Venus BTW...


Reese said...

I am truly humbled and appreciative of all that you and Bill did for me. Without your assitance, I never would have finished. You did just what was needed when it was needed.

Southbay Girl said...

you did what Reese needed!!!! You were yourself which was perfect!!! great job!! I'll be pacing a friend in September...I'll have to get pointers from you!!

Calyx Meredith said...

Willie - that's exciting! It's also SO Willie-esque to come off of an injury and essentially do a pick up marathon in order to pace a newly minted ultra pal. It sounds like the experience of a lifetime. Thanks for letting us have a glimpse of it.

JenZen said...

OMG! What an AMAZING experience!!! WOW!! And look at you just running 25 miles on a whim. You guys are just amazing.

Middle-of-the-Pack Girl aka Terri said...

I had no idea that Reese was your friend - he stopped by my blog last week, I will now be adding him to my blogroll.

By the way, I will probably need to chat with you if my brother does two 50-milers this summer/fall.His first one doesn't allow pacers, but the second one does, and I'll need guidance on what to bring, etc.

You are a good friend Willie. And you could do an ultra if you needed to, you'd just have to train for it, as I am sure Reese has done.

But even if you never do one, that's alright too.